The chairs are done turning, and now it’s time to go to battle on The Voice. We start season two battle rounds this week, and just like last season, they are both beautiful and painful. They’re great because we get some absolutely wonderful duets, but they hurt because we have to say goodbye to half the artists.
Team Adam leads off, and the first battle pairing of season two is Tony Lucca vs. Chris Cauley. “You guys are going to be singing in harmony and secretly trying to destroy each other,” Adam says, which is both hilarious and accurate. He gives them U2’s hit (and sometimes overplayed) song “Beautiful Day.” At rehearsal, he introduces Tony to Alanis Morrisette, and Chris gets to chat with Robin Thicke, who likes to wear sunglasses indoors for some reason. (Plus, check out Voice bandleader Paul Mirkovich at the piano!) It’s quickly apparent to me why he chose these two as advisors: their advice is honest and straight to the point, like Adam is himself.
You’d think that with an extra hour onto the show we might see a little more of rehearsal, but that’s not the case. At ten minutes into the hour, Tony and Chris are stepping into the ring. We even get some cool Street Fighter-like name graphics this year. Whatever the package, though, this initial battle shows that these artists really are remarkably talented, and what happens when you put great people in the room together. I hated this song after I heard it the thousandth time on the radio, but these guys had even me singing along. They sounded great individually, but they also sounded fantastic together. Even though it was a competition, they almost felt like a seameless unit. I got the sense that they really were in that moment and loving every second.
Blake votes for Chris, while Christina and Cee Lo go for Tony, and Adam (the only man who can make a Cosby sweater a viable wardrobe option) chooses Tony as the winner of the battle. On his way out, Chris tells Adam that “you know I was a fan of you as a music, but now I’m a fan of you as a man,” and lets the camera know that Tony is a worthy victor. On The Voice, even the exits are with grace and class.
We go out into the country to visit Team Blake, and Blake pairs Adley Stump vs. Raelynn on Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin.” It’s the battle of the adorable blonde vocalists. Raelynn understandably flips out when Blake’s wife Miranda Lambert shows up to give her some advice in rehearsal; much like Sera last week, I’m so happy that she could have that moment. Plus, being that Miranda was both on Nashville Star and appeared on The Voice last season, she has the perfect package of experience.
Adley gets to chat with Kelly Clarkson, who’s one of the most successful singers to come out of American Idol, and seems like she fits into Team Blake pretty easily. This is going to sound ridiculously obvious, but I like how Blake clearly assigned advisors to the artist they would be best with and focused on raising their individual game as opposed to drawing the focus to their opponent. You’d think that kind of stuff would be common sense, but it’s not necessarily and it proves once again that Blake isn’t phoning his coaching duties in.
After that, the battle is on, and the age/experience difference between Adley and Raelynn is a bit obvious, though in a competition like this I wouldn’t expect it not to be. They both sound good, but to my ear Adley is just a little more smooth and a little more nuanced. Cee Lo sums up my thoughts perfectly when he talks about Raelynn having more room to grow and perfect her voice. Adam votes for Raelynn, while Christina and Cee Lo prefer Adley, but Blake chooses Raelynn as the victor. Adley’s reaction? Telling Blake she hopes she made him proud and thanking him for believing in her. She has clear talent and the right attitude; I think this won’t and certainly shouldn’t be the last we hear from her.
Christina’s first battle selection is Chris Mann vs. Monique Benabou on Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love.” It’s a surprising combination for sure. In case it wasn’t clear from my blind audition commentary, I am in awe of Chris’s vocal talent and self-confidence, so I must admit I wondered if he’d steamroll. My worries were short-lived; despite not being nearly as trained, Monique can hit some great notes. Chris is teamed with Lionel Richie, who encourages him not to be such a perfectionist (something I wish I could learn!), and Monique meets up with Jewel, who tries to calm her nerves. This battle boils down to the age-old discussion of skill versus passion, and both those things have their place in music.
I would not have put these two artists together, and I wouldn’t have chosen this song, but that’s why Christina Aguilera is a coach and I am not. Chris and Monique sing the hell out of this tune, and aside from being vocally talented, really threw a lot into the performance aspect of it. I felt the emotion and it really did grab me like they could have been a couple. Yes, it sounded great, but there was a story that I felt was being told in their rendition, and we don’t necessarily see that in a lot of music these days. It made me smile to know I wasn’t just listening to a great song, but I was in a moment and a feeling with these two.
The guys have differing opinions, but the final decision is Christina’s, and she picks Chris. I’m sure a few people didn’t necessarily know what to make of his blind audition because it’s not a genre most people grasp, but he proves that he can sing more (for lack of a better word) “mainstream” music and hopefully that more accessible material helped a wider audience understand just how talented he really is. Having said that, watching this battle definitely increased my respect for Monique’s vocal talent. As Christina said, she really laid it all out on the line, and you can’t ask for anything more from an artist. I became a fan of hers with this performance, and hopefully it will open some doors for her as well.
Cee Lo pairs Cheesa Laureta vs. Angie Johnson on the 80’s standby “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which he calls “probably one of my favorites.” No pressure, ladies! Chessa gets to work with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, while Angie hangs out with Ne-Yo. I’m surprised that Purrfect the Cat isn’t sleeping on the piano. This is the first battle where we see a little tension, and I want to recognize that because it’s authentic. It’s great that these ladies have the space to express themselves even when they disagree, and furthermore that we don’t then see that turned up into manufactured TV drama.
This is not an easy song to do, both because it requires some lungs and because everyone has probably tried it at some point (albeit possibly during inebriated karaoke, but still). There’s no doubt that Cheesa and Angie had the power to make this one work, but they also did justice to the lasting appeal of the piece and also looked much better than the rest of us while doing it. This was an inspired pairing choice and I wasn’t disappointed at all.
Adam picks Cheesa, while Blake and Christina prefer Angie. Cee-Lo sides with Adam and selects Cheesa, setting off a hug-fest all around. I said before that I was so glad Angie was a part of the competition, and I stand by that statement. I’m glad that we had the chance to be exposed to her talent, and she better not go anywhere!
Blake selects Jordis Unga vs. Brian Fuente with Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” (making this, I think, the first time a coach has chosen a song by an advisor in the battle rounds). What’s Blake thinking? He wants to rock out, y’all. Brian is a little nervous about a song that’s meant for a female vocalist, but Jordis doesn’t share that feeling; she thinks he sounds great and furthermore, she seems to struggle a little.
Brian gets Kelly as his advisor, and it’s neat to see her (and the other advisors) get a little airtime to share their own individual opinions of the artist they’re working with, instead of just being seen attached to the coach as was the case in season one. Jordis works with Miranda and her fantastically big Starbucks mug, and Miranda and Blake try to get her not to focus entirely on the results and just get up there and perform. It’s great advice, though I absolutely can’t blame her for looking to the end of the line either.
Jordis is hot out of the gate when she brings out the growl for the phrase “death row pardon,” but Brian is right behind her (and Cee Lo is rocking out from his big red chair). Here again is another case of a song I didn’t necessarily enjoy in its original incarnation (sorry, Alanis!) but I liked in the battle round. Despite the fact that it might have been one of the more flawed battles, it was something I enjoyed as a fan. I think Alanis would have enjoyed it (hopefully she heard it!) and that these two would make good collaborators in the future, when the pressure would be off.
Christina and Adam like Jordis, while Cee Lo takes Brian. Blake makes Adam smile when he says that he uses Adam as the definition of a rock singer on occasion, and then sides with Christina and Adam in picking Jordis.
But wait! The Voice is about to take you to church…seriously. It’s Team Christina’s Jesse Campbell vs. Anthony Evans in the battle of the gospel singers. They draw one of my favorite songs, Alicia Keys’ hit “If I Ain’t Got You.” Jesse gets Lionel as his advisor, which makes him feel like a woman (ha). Calling him “extremely ambitious,” Lionel advises him to take his time with the song. Jewel advises Anthony that his “underdog” position may work to his advantage, because he can take the audience by surprise.
I have to admit that I have a severe bias with this song; Adam Levine covered it on Maroon 5’s Hands All Over album, and his version is the one that made this one of my favorite tunes. That rendition is so dear to my heart. But even with that in my head, Jesse and Anthony’s version still had me singing along from the word “go.” I don’t think Christina could have made a better selection for them to show their stuff, and that they sounded great both individually and in harmony. Some of those notes Anthony was hitting were ridiculous. When Carson said “epic,” it didn’t feel like dramatic fluff.
Adam calls the battle “mindblowing” and has trouble picking a winner at first, but then chooses Jesse, and Blake agrees with him. Christina has this difficult choice in front of her, and stalls for a moment before she concurs and takes Jesse. Like other battles tonight, this one could have gone either way, and Anthony should hold his head high tonight.
There’s been a lot of talk about the talent level being raised in season two, and I must say that given my appreciation for many of season one’s artists, I was still a bit skeptical until I saw these battle rounds live in December. These are the trickiest part of the season but they showcase a lot that’s important about this series. Each of these artists proved that they had individually earned their spot on their team, but they also functioned well as teammates (something not to be underestimated!) and showed a national audience that they’re also good people. Make no mistake about it, there are a lot of talented vocalists, but it’s one thing to have solo talent, a whole other thing to know how to sing with someone else, and a whole other other thing to know how to win or lose with respect for yourself and for your competition.
I loved hearing these artists sing individually in auditions, but there were some phenomenal battle pairings, ones that took songs to whole other levels. Some of the battles in season one didn’t always reach that next tier, but tonight there wasn’t a weak one in the bunch. Not only was it great TV, but as someone with a passion for music, it was also great art.
Oh, and the Adam Levine Bleeping Counter goes up +1 this week to 11 this season.
What did you think of the battle results? Did you agree? Disagree? Was there someone or something you truly loved? Let me know, and I’ll see you next week.